To call this past weekend’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Texas Motor Speedway a low-point in the lifecycle of the Next Gen car would be an understatement. Several leaders — not just cars — wrecked out of the race with blown tires; some after just 30 or so laps. Following a Bristol Motor Speedway race that saw multiple playoff contenders affected by steering issues, to follow that up on a completely different surface and track layout is obviously cause for concern.
As the sole tire provider for NASCAR for almost 30 years, is it time for NASCAR to once again open up the playing field to new suppliers? This week Vito Pugliese and Clayton Caldwell tackle the topic in 2-Headed Monster.
I’m Rubber, You’re Glue…
With as many spins and flat tires as there were during Sunday’s (Sept. 25) NASCAR Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway, the NASCAR community — fans and competitors alike — were awash in anger. Nobody was immune from the 16 caution flags, and the most vulnerable place to be seemed to be at the front of the field. Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex, Jr., and Chase Elliott – all past champions – succumbed to blown right rear tires while comfortably leading.
Several others suffered similar fates, like Chris Buescher.
Naturally, whenever a tire appears to be the culprit of a crash, Goodyear gets called out on the carpet. The memes likening the rash of blown tires to the 2008 Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway – the race that all but killed enthusiasm for the oval event – began to fly as wildly as the debris field from the latest contact with the turn 4 wall.
Greg Stucker from Goodyear issued a statement – or rationalization – saying that the laundry list of reasons he offered weren’t excuses, as to why there were so many problems that night. While the tire supplier is the natural punching bag for when there are tire issues, it’s not always Akron’s fault. At times it might seem to be a trite phrase to say, “it’s not the tires, it’s what the teams are doing to them,” but in this case, it very likely may be what the teams are doing to them.
Rodney Childers on Monday offered a series of tweets suggesting the issue was the result of teams airing the tires down below the recommended air pressure, in an effort to lower the ride height of the car by a staggering .100 in order to get the under-body diffuser that much closer to the track.
My two cents.. pic.twitter.com/Bjq90qZYRo
— Rodney Childers (@RodneyChilders4) September 26, 2022
Remember when teams would risk a $50,000 fine to try and get the rear quarter panels up ¼ of an inch, or cheat the roof height by a similar amount?
Now we’re down to airing down the tires like a semi trying to clear a low bridge trying to get a tenth of an inch closer to the ground, due to rules limiting shock travel. So, if the tire manufacturer sets a minimum air pressure limit, and that same tire compound was used without issue a few weeks earlier at another 1.5-mile track – is it expressly the fault of the tire manufacturer to the point where new suppliers should be entertained?
I think that’s a hard argument to make.
That’s like doing a bunch of modifications to your new Mustang, breaking something, then getting mad that they won’t fix it under warranty, then threatening to buy a Camaro. Remember the Formula 1 tire shredding fiasco of 2005 at Indianapolis?
That resulted in Michelin shod cars parked in the garage, along with a few on Bridgestone. It ended up poisoning the relationship, and only lasted two more years before F1 withdrew from the US until the advent of Circuit of The Americas in Austin, back in 2012.
Much like Pepperidge Farm, I remember the tire wars of the late 1980s and early 1990s between Hoosier and Goodyear.
Was it some great experiment to lead to innovation and spirited competition? No, it caused a lot of blown right-front tires, terrible impacts into concrete walls without safer barriers, and some pretty basic driver safety equipment that is taken for granted today. It wasn’t uncommon back then to see the dashes bent or steering columns knocked cockeyed after crash during that era, not to mention the physical tolls of ribs, shoulders, and concussions that bore the brunt of the impacts.
While Goodyear did well by noting some of the factors that may have exacerbated the issue, such as the extreme heat that track was under that day, as well as some of the bumps in turn 4 which cause load spikes in the corner on a shorter sidewall tire that the Next Gen car brought about, we need more of the technical explanation that Rodney Childers offered. Some scoff at that, saying “oh, the fans don’t care about that kind of stuff…”
Uh, have you ever tried telling them?
This is a sport that exists solely on the prospect of advertising consumer goods and services to the spectators. If you want to explain how your stuff works, you have the ultimate forum and a captive audience in which to offer something compelling beyond “tight means it’s hard to turn” or “PLAYOFF IMPLICATIONS!” every 30 laps. Whatever happened to the cut away car that used to be a fixture during broadcasts? Spin that hunk of junk around and show the fans what the diffuser does, why it’s there, and what is to be risked and gained by lowering it the thickness of a less than a golf pencil is worth risking wrecking.
Could Goodyear build a 17-inch low profiled tire that’s more durable, but wears more than this past weekend? Sure, probably. But what is the sanctioning body requesting? Does that risk putting too much heat in the tire if it wears quicker if the same teams run the initial air pressure too low? This is still a new car that we’ve had seven months to work with – with one off weekend to address issues – and guys are still getting hurt driving them. Noah Gragson remarked that he wasn’t excited about racing the rest of the year in Cup while chasing the Xfinity Series title – in apparently what he feels are safer cars.
Before we start beating up Goodyear for what might be some aggressive set ups coupled with a 100-degree day on a bumpy, fast track, there’s still some larger issues that need fixing – like things catching on fire, and careers potentially ended prematurely after a relatively benign impact. Layering in additional variables like competing tire compounds and manufacturers would potentially be disastrous. – Vito Pugliese
The Time Has Come to Consider Something Else
Last week’s tire at Texas was unacceptable. It was reminiscent of Indianapolis in 2008, and who could forget that day? Oh, maybe Goodyear has. Yeah. I said it.
They vowed to never ever have a situation like that happen again and Sunday was pretty much the same deal, expect this time it was 35 laps instead of 16.
I know people are going to point to the tire wars of the 1980s and 1990s as a reason for not having two tire companies. I know many say those wars were bad for the sport and were part of the reason for several bad accidents during that era. But heck, this new car has safety issues. So if it improves the racing even a bit, why not consider it?
No matter what happens I think it’s time to hold Goodyear accountable. That’s been my biggest problem. After all these years, Goodyear continues to point the finger at the teams and air pressure. Even a little accountability would have me off their backs a bit, but I can’t take them doing that bad of a job and not admitting they had an issue and pointing the finger elsewhere.
There’s no doubt that being a tire manufacturer in this era is tough, I am not trying to say their job is easy. However, in most instances competition is a good thing and I think adding a little competition to Goodyear would at least force them to step up their game.
As it is now, Goodyear can build a bad tire and literally nothing happens to them. NASCAR doesn’t say anything, the drivers get fined if they do and Goodyear can point the fingers at the teams and tracks and no one bats an eye at it. They just move along to the next race like nothing happened. When you have a playoff race as big of a disaster as the race was at Texas and you create a tire that was that poor, it’s certainly time to consider something else. Could it get any worse?
That’s a serious question, by the way. Yeah, the tire wars of the 1990s may have forced Goodyear and Hoosier to be too aggressive at times. But could a tire be worse than what we saw at Texas? How many accidents were because of blown tires? 12? 15? Either way the answer is way too many. A tire war couldn’t create that many accidents in one week could it?
It’s time to look at other options, that is for sure. – Clayton Caldwell